This opportunity is now closed.

Funded PhD Opportunity

Deep-learning assisted tele-medicine for the delivery of diabetic retinopathy screening in low- and middle-income countries

Subjects: Computer Science and Informatics and Computer Science and Informatics


Diabetes mellitus is considered an epidemic of the 21st century, increasing dramatically in recent years, with a 9% global prevalence reported in 2014. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that 425 million people had diabetes in 2017, increasing to 629 million in 2045. The burden of increase is highest in LMICs compared with high-income countries (HICs). Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a common microvascular complication of diabetes mellitus (types I and 2), which can lead to visual impairment and blindness if not detected early and treated. People with vision‐threatening DR have been shown to have increased risk of mental health issues, depression and loss of productivity.

DR is the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in the working age population. DR is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a priority public health concern in LMICs. In HICs, DR Screening is conducted through systematic national-level programs, but LMICs are unlikely to have full population-based screening programmes owing to limited resources including technology and trained personnel. Screening programmes in HICs typically use retinal photography in community settings that are then graded by eyecare personnel. Potential cases of DR are then flagged for further clinical assessment or management.

By contrast, LMICs rely on opportunistic screening and case detection.  A limited healthcare workforce is a major problem in most LMICs, with very few ophthalmologists to conduct ocular examinations. The reasons for the unavailability of DR Screening in LMIC settings are mostly attributed to the lack of skilled human resources, financial resources, geographical challenges, and evidence of what works in the local system. This project proposes to develop a cost effective computer-aided tool to detect DR at an early stage, prior to the occurrence of irreversible vision loss, using an appropriate set of features retrieved from retinal images (captured by a hand-held camera) along with Artificial Intelligence Deep Learning techniques.

Previous work has demonstrated that this system can be used by a non-specialist medical worker (with minimal training) in a range of environments (e.g., community clinic or patient’s home). Hand-held cameras are easy to transport, require little electrical power, and are user-friendly.

Three project stages will deliver the overarching project aim:

-Development of algorithms and AI system to effectively analyse retinal images with DR -Trial of system with Prof. Peto in UK grading centre to compare with conventional retinal photography and DR grading -Trial of system in the LMIC areas of Sri Lanka and India with established research partners This PhD can only be realised with the interdisciplinary connection of the ISRC, who bring expertise in current deep learning topics and computer vision algorithms, and existing partnership with the LMICs; while the Centre for Optometry and Vision Science academics bring expertise in retinal imaging, knowledge of extraction of key features from the retina, clinical management of DR, and partnership with Prof Tunde Peto. She is a world-recognised expert in the epidemiology of DR and is Head of the DR Screening programme in NI.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Research proposal of 1500 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project
  • A demonstrable interest in the research area associated with the studentship

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 70%
  • For VCRS Awards, Masters at 75%
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Applicants will be shortlisted if they have an average of 75% or greater in a first (honours) degree (or a GPA of 8.75/10). For applicants with a first degree average in the range of 70% to 74% (GPA 3.3): If they are undertaking an Masters, then the average of their first degree marks and their Masters marks will be used for shortlisting.


    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to:

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Profile picture of Adrian Johnston

As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

Watch Video  

Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
23 to 24 March 2020


Apply Online  


Magee campus

Magee campus
A key player in the economy of the north west

Contact supervisor

Dr Pratheepan Yogarajah

Other supervisors

  • Dr Julie-Anne Little
  • Dr Padraig Mulholland
  • Professor Damien Coyle
  • Professor Tunde Peto, Consultant Ophthalmologist, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queens University Belfast Dr Prabhath Piyasena, Medical officer at Policy Analysis and Development Directorate of the Ministry of Health - Sri Lanka, Ophthalmic Medical Officer at National Eye Hospital - Colombo, Sri Lanka and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Related Funded Opportunities


Subject: Computer Science and Informatics

 View details

Computer vision for advertising analytics

Closing date:
Friday 28 February 2020
Subject: Computer Science and Informatics

 View details

Intelligent Systems

Subject: Computer Science and Informatics

 View details